By Erin Young, CWDC Employer Coach
Feb. 7. 2024 - One day last fall I stopped at a gas station. With a car full of soccer kids, we went inside to select some after game snacks. At the checkout I asked the typical “How are you doing this afternoon?” question, expecting a typical “Fine, thank you. Yourself?” in reply. I was surprised instead by the cashier’s response.
“Really good now! You know, my day started out pretty rough. But then I had a great conversation with my assistant manager and she was so supportive. Now I’m feeling great. So grateful I had her there today!”
I guarantee this was not the interaction I was expecting. Of course, as a workforce professional who specializes in job quality, I just had to investigate further. Later that day I immediately searched for gas station job opportunities. I found some openings for cashiers in the same county as the one I had stopped in. The starting wage for a part-time sales associate was $18.55-$19.65 per hour. Full time positions immediately start with health insurance benefits (after a probation period for part time), 401k contributions, paid time off, parental leave, holiday bonus pay, and life, vision, and dental insurance. After consulting the MIT Living Wage Calculator for that county, the cashier position pay came pretty close to what is considered a living wage for a single income household without children.
The Colorado Job Quality Framework identifies six job features that contribute to job quality:
- Wages that are predictable and allow for wealth building opportunities
- Benefits that promote a healthy lifestyle
- Predictable scheduling that allows for life’s needs and balances
- Transparent growth opportunities that allow an employee to advance in their careers
- Working conditions that promote physical and psychological safety and wellbeing
- A sense of belonging and/or purpose in an inclusive workplace
When I think about this entry-level job as a gas station sales associate, I look at these six features and believe that it is on its way to meeting the majority of these criteria. The wages are clear and competitive and allow for wealth building opportunities with retirement savings. This employee has access to wellness benefits to keep her healthy. According to the job postings, there are multiple shift options available and even a bonus for working any holiday shifts. She has opportunities to advance to a shift lead and floor manager. And perhaps most importantly, she felt psychologically safe. The employee felt like she belonged and was listened to by her leadership team.
The essential takeaway here is that every job can be a quality job. No worker is “unskilled” labor. Safe and inclusive work environments can be found in any profession. Every employer can invest in opportunities for additional training and career progression. Wages and benefits can exist on a continuum that fits the needs and the budgets of all employees and their employers.
The COVID pandemic forced employers to reevaluate how they were recruiting and retaining employees, and all of the features of job quality became essential tools for businesses to remain competitive. As more businesses shift their focus to the human part of human resources, those companies are more productive and community economies are becoming more resilient. Now is the time for us to recognize job quality as the new normal in workforce development.